Essendon’s Conor McKenna has retired from the AFL with immediate effect after the call of his Irish homeland became too strong.
McKenna has had a horrid 2020, testing positive for COVID-19 after returning to Australia, reluctantly, from Ireland when the AFL season went into shutdown.
He was forced into isolation for a third time having already done two stints, one in Ireland and another on his return to Australia. McKenna managed just six games in 2020.
He’d indicated he was highly unlikely to stay in the AFL beyond this season, and the 24-year old, who has played 79 games since his 2015 debut, told his teammates on Tuesday morning the “time was right” to go home.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that at some point I’d want to be returning home to my family, and I’ve been weighing up the decision recently. It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but it’s also been a chance to take stock and weigh up several things in my life, so the time is right,” McKenna said.
“I will always be grateful for Essendon’s support of both myself and my family since I arrived at the club from the other side of the world at the end of 2014.
“I will miss my teammates and coaches, and I want to thank the Bomber fans for their support across the journey too. I will always wish the boys well and hope they see success in the not-too-distant future.”
Essendon football manager Dan Richardson said the club understood McKenna’s decision.
“While we are disappointed to lose a player of his calibre from our list, he departs the club with our support to return to his homeland,” Richardson said.
“In recent years, we’ve had very open and honest conversations with Conor, and his desire to return back home to Ireland has been no secret.
“It has been a very trying year for Conor personally, too, but ultimately we accept that the pull to return home was too strong. We will continue to provide our full support to Conor as he embarks on the next phase of his life.
“We thank Conor for his contribution to the club and wish both he and his family all the very best for their future endeavours.”
McKenna was recruited by Essendon in late 2014 as a category B rookie from County Tyrone, Ireland. He went on to make his debut against Richmond in round 22, 2015 at the MCG, kicking a goal with his first kick in the AFL.
He was named in the AFLPA’s 22Under22 side in 2018 and placed fourth overall in the club’s Crichton Medal in 2019 behind Zach Merrett.